William Cullen first demonstrated artificial refrigeration in 1748 with the Royal Society putting his idea ahead of the tin can and pasteurised milk.
A Royal Society steering group, including Nobel Prize-winner Sir Tim Hunt, reduced a list of about 100 innovations to 20, which was voted on by 45 of the society's fellows on their accessibility, productivity, aesthetics and health.
Also on the list was the fishing net, the plough, the cork, crop rotation and the knife, as judged by members of the UK's national academy of science.
Sir Peter Williams, the treasurer and vice-president of the Royal Society and a member of the steering group, said: "The poll reveals the huge role science and innovation have played in improving our health and our lives. This is something to which the scientific community continues to add."
The first commercial refrigeration system was produced in the United States almost 50 years after Cullen first showed off his early creation at the University of Glasgow.